Lee nixes plan for retirement home

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Lee nixes plan for retirement home

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President Lee Myung-bak at the Blue House yesterday.

President Lee Myung-bak yesterday ordered his staff to nix plans for his retirement home in the face of mounting criticism from opposition lawmakers, who questioned the legality of the project’s complicated land purchase.

The head of the Presidential Security Service, Kim In-jong, who oversaw the project, expressed his intention to step down to take responsibility for the controversy after the ruling Grand National Party demanded his resignation.

It was not clear if Lee had accepted Kim’s resignation as of yesterday.

“It was not my intention, but the retirement residence plan has troubled many people, and I find it very regrettable,” Lee was quoted yesterday by Choe Geum-nak, senior secretary to the president for public relations.

Choe said that Lee ordered Blue House staff to “completely reconsider” the plan and the chief of staff to settle the issue as soon as possible.

Earlier this month, media outlets reported the president’s purchase of a large plot in southern Seoul under his son’s name for his retirement home, drawing suspicions that the president was sidestepping inheritance laws.

Of the 2,600 square meters (28,000 square feet) of land purchased in total in Naegok-dong, Seocho District, for Lee’s home and security facilities, a 463-square-meter plot was bought under the name of Lee’s son. The adjacent plot was purchased by the Presidential Security Service, with Lee’s son jointly owning 848 square meters of it.

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The controversial plot in Naegok-dong, southern Seoul. [YONHAP]


The 1.12 billion won ($970,000) price tag of the plot for Lee’s home was criticized by the Democratic Party for being 500 million won lower than the market price. The DP also said that the Presidential Security Service paid four times the market price for the land designated for security facilities.

Property purchased by the Presidential Security Service is traditionally done using the state coffers.

After the initial reports stirred controversy, the president last week said he would take over the deed to the plot under his son’s name to stop speculation he was trying to skirt laws.

Criticism intensified, however, from the public and opposition lawmakers, who said Lee was trying to build a lavish home using taxpayer money, spurring GNP officials to demand that the plan be scrapped.

“The Democrats will attack us over the matter not only during the Seoul mayoral race, but also in the April 2012 legislative elections,” Representative Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the GNP, said on Sunday. “And the public criticism is also high.”

While a formal decision on Lee’s retirement home has yet to be made, Hong said yesterday that Lee would return to his old home in Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam District. The GNP chairman said the president spoke about the plan in their meeting after a Blue House luncheon yesterday.

Hong also said that the land in Naegok-dong would be turned over to the government with its use to be discussed later. He added that Lee was not involved in the land purchase, with Lee’s son and the Presidential Security Service handling the issue.

The Blue House’s quick decision to cancel the Naegok-dong plan appeared to show the changed dynamics between the president and the ruling party as Lee’s term nears its end. Lee returned from the United States on Sunday night, but the decision to shelve the plan came the next morning, with the GNP taking the lead.

“The president moved quickly and accepted the party’s request,” Hong said. “We will do our best to not disturb the people with this issue ever again.”

According to sources, Kim Jeong-kweon, secretary general of the GNP, met with Kim Hyo-jae, senior secretary to the president for political affairs, on Sunday night and demanded that the Naegok-dong plan be shelved. Hong also pressured the Blue House to scrap the plan, they said.

The secretary general said the GNP intended to keep up its proactive role.

“From now on, the party will make demands by reflecting the people’s sentiments, and the Blue House will accept the requests that it sees as appropriate,” he said.

A Blue House official said that the decision to shelve the retirement home plan was due to misunderstanding and mistakes, and not due to corruption.

“The president has made the decision because of the public sentiment,” the official said.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, kept the pressure up yesterday, threatening criminal probes into the first family and top Blue House officials.

“This is something that cannot just end by saying that the plan will be reconsidered,” Representative Lee Yong-sup, DP spokesman, said. “It’s not something to be resolved by just selling the land. The president must apologize to the people for this administration’s lack of morals and integrity.”

Representative Choi Kyu-sung, who headed the DP team investigating Lee’s retirement home site, said he would ask prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into top Blue House officials, including Chief of Staff Yim Tae-hee, on charges of breach of trust and embezzlement.

Choi also said that the first lady, Kim Yoon-ok, and the president’s son Si-hyung should be investigated on charges of violating the real estate transaction law and breach of trust. Current law prohibits real estate transactions under false names.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

[뉴스분석] ‘MB식 공정’ 추락

내곡동 사저 포기, 논현동으로 … 김인종 경호처장도 경질

이명박(사진) 대통령이 17일 서울 내곡동 사저 건설 계획을 전면 백지화했다. 그리고 사과로 비칠 만한 말도 했다. 수석비서관회의를 주재하면서 “본의 아니게 사저 문제로 많은 사람들에게 걱정을 끼치게 되어 대단히 안타깝게 생각한다”고 말했다. 이어 “사저 문제는 대통령실장을 중심으로 빠른 시간 내에 전면 재검토해서 결론을 내려달라”고 지시했다고 최금락 청와대 홍보수석이 전했다.

 그로부터 4시간쯤 뒤 이 대통령은 홍준표 한나라당 대표와 따로 만났다. 5부 요인(국회의장, 대법원장, 헌법재판소장, 국무총리, 중앙선거관리위원장), 여야 대표와의 청와대 오찬을 마친 뒤다. 홍 대표는 “내곡동 사저를 (다른 곳으로) 이전하는 것 자체가 국민 정서에 반하고 부적절하다. (이 대통령이 과거에 살던 서울) 논현동으로 갔으면 한다”고 말했다. 이 대통령은 “논현동 복귀 문제를 포함해 전면 재검토하라고 지시했다”고 답했다. 홍 대표는 “사저 문제 책임자인 김인종 경호처장을 경질하라”고도 했다. 청와대는 “김 처장이 이미 사의를 표명한 상태”라고 했다. 홍 대표의 두 가지 요구를 다 받아들인 셈이다. 이후 홍 대표는 국회에서 "이 대통령이 퇴임 후 새로운 사저 대신 논현동 자택으로 돌아가겠다고 말씀하셨다”고 밝혔다.

 이 대통령은 내곡동 사저 문제가 불거진 지 10여 일 만에 계획을 전면 백지화했다. 청와대 관계자는 “지난해 북한의 연평도 포격으로 민간인 사상자가 발생하자 6일 만에 사과한 경우를 빼면 가장 빨리 문제를 시정한 사례일 것”이라고 말했다. 이 대통령이 이런 신속한 조치를 취한 건 10·26 재·보선을 앞두고 크게 나빠진 민심을 염두에 뒀기 때문이다. 내곡동 사저 전면 백지화 방침이 정해지기 전까지 청와대는 “ 아들 시형씨 앞으로 된 땅(463㎡)을 대통령 명의로 돌려놓겠다”(10일)거나, “ 경호 부지도 줄이겠다”(12일)는 등의 미봉책을 내놓았다. 하지만 그걸로 비난 여론은 진정되지 않았다. 전문가들은 “이 대통령이 그간 공정사회를 주창해 왔는데 사저 문제와 관련해선 ‘공정’과는 정면 배치되는, 공정성이 몰락한 양상으로 일 처리를 했기 때문에 국민이 분노하는 것”이라고 분석했다.

정치컨설팅 ‘민’의 박성민 대표는 “편법 증여와 특혜, 개발차익 논란까지 불거져 법적 공정성은 차치하고라도 정서적 공정성에도 문제를 일으킨 셈”이라며 “노무현 전 대통령의 사저를 아방궁이라고 비판했던 진영에서 이런 이중 잣대를 보이니까 국민이 화가 난 것”이라고 말했다.

 악화한 민심을 체감한 한나라당 홍 대표와 나경원 서울시장 후보 측의 압박도 이 대통령의 결심에 영향을 끼쳤다.

홍 대표 등은 “사저 문제가 조속히 정리되지 않으면 서울시장 선거는 물론 내년 총선·대선 때도 고전할 것”이라며 전면 백지화를 요구했다. 홍 대표는 16일 오후 김효재 청와대 정무수석에게 연락해 사저 계획 백지화를 요구했고, 한나라당 김정권 사무총장은 이날 밤 김 수석을 만나 이 같은 당의 입장을 전달했다.

이 대통령 측근은 “사저 계획을 그대로 실행하려 할 경우 대통령은 여권에서도 고립될 뿐 아니라 재·보선 결과에 대한 모든 책임도 뒤집어쓰는 상황을 맞게 된다는 점을 청와대도 알았기 때문에 당의 요구를 수용했다”고 밝혔다.

 청와대에선 “내곡동 사저 문제에 대해 대통령은 상세히 모르고 있었고 김백준 청와대 총무기획관도 잘 몰랐기 때문에 말을 못하고 미적거렸다. 결국 김인종 경호처장이 숨기면서 사태가 일파만파 커진 것”이라며 “김 처장만 책임지면 된다”고 말하는 이들이 많다. 그러나 이 대통령이 최종 결정을 하기 전 내곡동 부지를 살펴본 적이 있다고 청와대 핵심 관계자가 말한 적이 있는 만큼 정치권에선 “대통령에게도 책임이 있는 것 아니냐. 대통령이 부지를 살펴본 적이 있으면서도 ‘본의 아니게’라는 말을 한 건 부적절하지 않으냐”는 지적도 나온다.

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